Report: Trust in Data, Computing Power Are Keys to Embracing Emerging Tech

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Agencies should strengthen endpoints to handle new technologies like AI and extended reality, a report suggests.

If federal agencies are to be on the cusp of emerging technology, they should focus on a few key areas like artificial intelligence and virtual reality, as well as data integrity and computing power at the edge, according to a new report.

Federal consultancy Accenture’s annual Technology Vision report outlines five core technologies and areas for federal leaders to watch in the coming year. The report hits some of the standards in emerging tech but also includes some trends that might seem contrary to where many agencies are going, such as a move toward more robust distributed computing.

All this is being driven by the new reality: Technology has created a new dynamic between federal agencies and their customers, the citizens.

“For the first time in history, technology is truly enabling deeper two-way relationships between businesses and government and the people they serve. People no longer just consume organizations’ products and services. They also interact with them and with each other,” the report reads. “Savvy federal agencies are realizing that this level of connection requires a new type of relationship based not only on an agency’s services but also its goals and values. They also know it requires a new level of trust.”

The report looks specifically at five trends affecting how agencies operate and interact with citizens: AI, extended reality, data veracity, frictionless business and the internet of thinking.

Raising AI to Benefit Society

Artificial intelligence has become one of the buzziest tech topics in D.C., as civilian and military agencies look to capitalize on the future. But Accenture warns against treating AI like just another technological tool.

“Just as parents guide their children, AI must be ‘raised’ to act as a responsible representative of the agency, and a contributing member of society,” the report states. “Many enterprises still treat AI as a software program—a tool to be used. No one would expect a tool to ‘act’ responsibly, explain its decisions or work well with others. But with AI systems making decisions that affect people, we must teach AI to do these things, and more.”

The report suggests building AI systems that account for data provenance—where it comes from and where it is going—and actively adjusting for potential bias.

Just as with flesh-and-blood employees, AI “represents its agency with every action it takes. … The agencies using the technology must think carefully about apportioning responsibility and liability for its actions.”

The End of Distance

The use of virtual reality and augmented reality—together, extended reality—are being used to bring people where they otherwise would not go. For federal agencies, this is most useful in the world of training, according to the Accenture report.

The report extends this to metaphor.

“Training scenarios can be set up anywhere, then run, rerun and refined to give a firsthand experience of different situations. This eliminates the distance not just between student and teacher, but also between theory and practice,” the authors wrote.

The Importance of Trust

Big data is king, particularly in the today’s public sector, where 86 percent of federal respondents told Accenture their organization uses data to make critical business decisions. For agencies to make the best decisions, they need the data to be the best data.

“Left unchecked, the potential harm from bad data becomes an enterprise-level existential threat,” the report states. “To meet these demands, every agency must bring together existing data science and cybersecurity capabilities to build a ‘data intelligence’ practice.”

Accenture suggests such groups should focus on three core tenets: provenance of the data, the context around how it is used and the integrity of the systems securing that data.

“Whether it’s a citizen creating a data trail by applying for benefits online or a sensor network reporting security checkpoints for a transportation system, there’s an associated behavior around all data origination,” the report states. “Federal agencies must build the capability to track this behavior as data is recorded, used and maintained.”

Built to Partner at Scale

Technology has created a more interconnected world. This is true of agencies’ business practices and relationships, as well: Some 50 percent of federal executives told Accenture they have twice as many partnerships today as they did two years ago.

In order to take advantage of this new reality, Accenture analysts suggest agencies look at the process and technologies currently in place that create barriers to such partnerships. Chopping these up into “microservices” and proving APIs to share timely data can add agility to the process and allow multiple, fluid relationships to blossom.

Accenture also urges agency leaders to look at new technologies that could support these efforts.

“They also need to explore how blockchain and smart contracts can improve trust in data shared from external sources and simplify data reconciliation. Those that invest in these changes today will redefine how they transact in the future.”

Creating Intelligent Distributed Systems

While most of the federal tech market is looking to the cloud for answers, Accenture’s last trend looks in the other direction: distributed computing with more local workloads.

“Current infrastructures are designed around a few basic assumptions: enough bandwidth to support any remote application, an abundance of computing in a remote cloud and nearly infinite storage,” the report states. “But the demand for immediate response times in physical-world applications defies this approach.”

According to Accenture, high-capacity workloads for technologies like robotics, extended reality, AI and the internet of things will require computers that can process those workloads locally, rather than in a remote cloud environment. To accomplish this, the report suggests agencies look at building out computing capability at the edge, including desktops as well as laptops, wearables and other connected devices that, networked together, can have strong computing power.

Some 87 percent of federal respondents agreed with Accenture that “edge infrastructure will speed the maturity of many technologies.”